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Saturday, January 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hunts Point stuck with bill for Bush visit

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Hunts Point residents are picking up the tab for part of the security surrounding a fund-raising visit by President Bush, after the city failed to find another party willing to cover the $23,634.25 bill.

City officials earlier said they wanted someone else to pay the added costs, and they sought help from the family of Craig McCaw, who hosted the $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Bush in August. The event raised about $1.7 million.

McCaw officials couldn't find anyone willing to take on the security costs, said Hunts Point Mayor Fred McConkey.

"They ran down all the channels they could to try to get the bills paid for, including themselves," McConkey said. "The McCaws would have happily paid the $23,000, but they are limited by the campaign-finance laws."

Brian Marcinek, a McCaw family representative, echoed McConkey's words.

"They explored every avenue possible," he said of the family.

The money represents 3.5 percent of the city's 2003 budget of $680,000. It was covered by an unexpected surplus of money that came when city officials overestimated how much they would pay for police service in 2003, said town administrator Jack McKenzie.

Representatives for the Bush-Cheney campaign have said security matters are an issue for the Secret Service, which protects the president. The Secret Service has said it does not reimburse local jurisdictions for security costs related to presidential visits.

Other towns around the country have made similar attempts to get repaid for presidential visits, with little success.

In 2002, the city of Portland instituted a policy of billing campaigns for added security costs if visits are strictly fund-raisers.

"These are closed events. These are not official visits. These are for raising money," said Scott Farris, spokesman for Portland Mayor Vera Katz. "It seems appropriate at a time when our city and most cities are facing budget constraints that these are budgeted into the campaigns' expenses."

In 2002, Portland sent a bill of $51,346 to the campaign of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith for visits by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert during Smith's re-election bid. The city got no response, Farris said.

The campaign for Smith's Democratic opponent, Bill Bradbury, paid the city of Portland $1,685 for visits by former president Bill Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Farris said.

In November, the city sent a $116,575 bill to the Bush-Cheney campaign for security surrounding a fund-raiser. The city has heard nothing back.

By contrast, the city of Bellevue made no effort to get repaid for $14,622 in extra costs that came with security for a December fund-raising visit Cheney made for Republican Congressman George Nethercutt, who is running for U.S. Senate. The city already budgets for visits by dignitaries and saw little chance of getting paid back, said Bellevue Police Department spokesman Michael Chiu.

In Hunts Point, costs escalated three days before the event, when Secret Service officials warned that as many as 5,000 protesters, some possibly bent on violence, might be drawn to the town to protest the visit, McConkey said. Nearly 90 police officers were deployed.

In the end, only a few hundred well-behaved protesters materialized. One man was arrested after entering Highway 520 near the on ramp from Hunts Point.

"In retrospect, we were very happy that we did it, because security is a top priority," McConkey said. "If we had to do it over again, I would do the exact same thing."

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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